Gardening with Pencil and Paper

The revised garden plan.

Recently, I finished reading an extraordinary book on gardening: The New Organic Grower by Eliot Coleman (30th anniversary edition, 2018). Coleman’s approach to biological gardening, and life in general, spoke to me loudly and I’m planning to adopt many of his techniques. For example,

  • Continuous improvement of soil fertility and biological processes using natural methods (manure, compost, organic matter, etc.)
  • Producing quality compost
  • Soil block seed germination methods
  • Cultivating often instead of onerous weeding

It is easy to farm a lot of land with a pencil and paper, but a lot harder to actually do it. — Eliot Coleman

The wisdom quoted above appears early in the book and came to my attention just in time as I began to mark out the plots of my original garden concept. After seeing the plots laid out on the ground, it became obvious that I’d been overzealous in my two-dimensional planning. The plots as planned would be expensive, time-consuming, and unwieldy to maintain and would produce way more food than we need. As Emily reminded me, we can always expand later if needed. So instead of six plots of 500 square feet each plus 1500 square feet of berries, we will have just three plots of 500 square feet each.

Plot C, shown here after tilling, is now covered with a thick layer of straw for the winter.

There isn’t much else to do outside for the garden now; next year’s garlic is in the ground and Plot C is covered with straw that I’ll till under in the spring. I’ll be busy, however, designing and building a few small germination chambers, researching supplies, and reading, reading, reading.

Planning for Future Harvests

The bucolic view from our deck.

The green corn is starting to turn brown and dry and the sky has become gray more often than not. Fall is here and I expect the trees to start turning quickly in the next few weeks. The grass in the photo above will become a pollinator meadow and several garden plots: I’ve already laid out the borders and will be removing sod soon to prepare the beds.

In late October or early November, I’ll plant the quarter-acre pollinator meadow with carefully selected perennial seeds and a nurse crop of sterile wheat. More delicate species will need to be started inside and transplanted and still others will be sown in spring. In a few years, with some luck and a lot of work, I’ll have a fully established meadow habitat to host pollinator insects and other creatures (and have less grass to mow).

Each of the six garden plots covers 500 square feet. One plot will be planted with smaller garden vegetables and the other five will be put into rotation with space-consuming crops like potatoes, squash, and sunflowers. Other plots will be given over to blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and lavender and a small orchard of six apple trees will round out the harvest. Herbs and salad greens will grow somewhere yet to be determined.

Here’s hoping that gardening books and magazines and thoughts of fresh, ripe, homegrown tomatoes will help me get through my first long, snowy Michigan winter.